Is China’s Underground Scene Currently a Replica of the 1990s American Rave Scene?
China’s underground electronic music scene may not have deep roots, yet it consistently manages to produce a diverse range of music vibes within various club dance floors.
Having once been deeply involved in Shenzhen’s underground club scene, we frequently encountered different sounds within the same club. Recognizing that China isn’t the birthplace of modern electronic music, we found ourselves naturally drawn toward the Western electronic music scene, particularly the United States, which is often regarded as one of the birthplaces of modern music. It was thought that the U.S. would have a more diverse and rich underground electronic music scene.
Luckily, we found ourselves back in Southern California again. This time, we decided to explore even deeper into the local dance music scene.
Southern California’s electronic music scene is thriving and sets the trend for global popular culture. It’s also the birthplace of a range of outstanding electronic music producers and DJs, such as Truncate and Drumcell. After attending several local parties in Southern California, I began to question my expectations: Why, despite the United States being the birthplace of House and Techno, do we rarely see iconic and famous dance clubs like to those in Europe? Why does the dissemination of underground electronic music culture in Southern California rely heavily on the organizers of outlaw parties? While Southern California is known as a modern music culture trendsetter that often favors parties with distinct genres, why does China, still in its early stages of rave culture, tend to lean towards parties that embrace greater genre diversity?
With numerous questions in mind, we reached out to Myxzlplix, the owner of the local techno collective label Techniche in San Diego, California.
▎Mixmag China (采访人：Jinqi) = J
▎Techniche (嘉宾：Myxzlplix) = M
How did you develop a passion for techno or electronic dance music in general? What motivated you to contribute to the local dance music scene?
I’ve been DJing and producing for over 30 years, and I’ve always been based here in San Diego.
I started in the ’90s rave scene here, which was in my opinion. It was new, it was fresh. It was before a lot of the bigger raves now, like EDC. Back in those days, EDC was much more underground compared to what it is now. Before attending, you didn’t even know the location. You had to call them, and they would tell you the address over the phone, and then you followed their directions to get there. The location changed every time; sometimes it might be under a bridge, and other times it might be in a very remote place. In any case, when you arrive at the location, you will discover a completely different world.
I’ve played at some rave parties, and I also played in clubs where I was playing more House music, but nowadays, my sets are predominantly Techno. I love both, so I’m very passionate about switching between the two. Although I occasionally still play House music, the Techniche label tends to lean more towards Techno.
As for how Techniche was founded, to be honest, I just thought that starting a label would be an interesting thing. I’ve been involved in DJing and producing for quite some time, so I’ve always had the idea of starting a label in the back of my mind.
Before I started Techniche, I was doing remixes and tracks for other labels. I’m grateful for the opportunity, but sometimes they just had the tracts but didn’t invest in marketing and promotion. So, what I believed would boost my career and exposure didn’t really help. The more I experienced that, the more frustrated I became, and eventually I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Can you tell me how Techniche has evolved until now? What difficulties did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?
It was around 2016, I believe, when I initially just wanted to find a place to play music. At that time, I was quite active as a DJ, performing here and there, but there wasn’t a “proper club scene”. Techno was still quite underground, with many outlaw parties and such, but it felt like something was missing for me.
这里没有像柏林Tresor那样有固定风格的俱乐部 (就是那种，虽然会请guest DJ，但核心风格保持一致的俱乐部)。这里本地（San Diego）的俱乐部，大部分都是以promoter为重，promoter请什么样的guest DJ，那么今晚的主题就会跟着guest DJ走。可能今晚是Techno，明晚就是progressive House，这都是不固定的。所以，对我来说，Techniche创办之初只为了让我和同样喜欢Techno的朋友们有个可以一起放歌，一起跳舞，一起social的地方。
There weren’t clubs here with a consistent style like Tresor in Berlin. For the most part, local clubs in San Diego were promoter-driven, meaning the club’s vibe for the night really depended on the guest DJ booked. It could be Techno tonight and Progressive House tomorrow. So, when I initially started Techniche, it was mainly about providing a place for me and my friends who enjoyed Techno to come together, play music, dance, and socialize.
I have a partner, John. I met John while I was DJing around during that time. He was very talented. At that point, neither of us had many opportunities to perform, but I had always yearned for a place for Techno lovers. So, John and I started Techniche. We started hosting events every month and began to meet people I hadn’t known before. To be honest, at that time, I wasn’t very familiar with many other promoters in San Diego. I just knew that some people were throwing Techno parties, but they were in very underground locations, not in clubs. I just wanted a place that people could go to regularly, where they could socialize and make new friends.
刚创办那会，我记得EDM还很火，有很多很多音乐节，但那并不是我想要的。我想要的是真正俱乐部那样的感觉(在中国国内你可以理解为夜店和俱乐部的区别)，像纽约Body & Soul（一个纽约的老牌俱乐部）那样具有鲜明特色的俱乐部。之后就碰上了John，促成了这个愿望的实现。Techniche创立伊始，一开始我们只是为了自己，久而久之我们就开始邀请其他本地DJ加入，一切都顺理成章了。
When I started Techniche, I remember that EDM was still popular, and there were lots of music festivals, but that wasn’t the vibe I wanted. What I wanted was the authentic nightclub experience, character-filled clubs like New York’s Body & Soul. Then I met John, and it set the stage for realizing this dream. At the outset of Techniche, it was initially just for ourselves, but as time went on, we began inviting other local DJs to join, and everything fell into place naturally.
Moreover, personally, I always aimed to take things to the next level. I had many “example models,” like Drumcode. I would often keep an eye on what Drumcode was doing. “Wow, they have their own label, their own events, and even their own radio show.” So, we started our own label and radio show as well. Initially, I didn’t intend to start a music label mainly because I didn’t know how and had no one to teach me. But I had this belief — when I was releasing music on other labels, at least I could identify areas where they weren’t doing well. So, when starting my own label, I could avoid those pitfalls and do better.
So, we started this, and it just happened naturally. You know, our logo is also a part of us. I have a background in graphic design. So when I was doing events for Techniche, I drew from some elements I had learned from my clients and experimented with them. I saw a lot of people doing events, but most of them didn’t have a distinct brand concept: no logo and no identity. That’s why we created a “logo” and introduced astronaut and space elements into Techniche’s events.
At first, we just thought it looked cool. But later on, we found meaning in the astronaut theme: we saw astronauts as explorers, signifying that we were doing something different, like pioneering new territories for Techno in San Diego, much like astronauts exploring different realms and spaces in outer space. Everything we did was an experiment. We didn’t overthink things in advance; we were willing to take risks.
I have a question out of curiosity. Since you mentioned that you wanted a place where you and your friends could play music and dance together, why didn’t you choose to open your own nightclub?
Actually, a few years ago, there was an available space for sale. And at that time, my friends and I were considering whether to buy it to host events. However, we ultimately decided against it.
Opening a club requires a tremendous amount of effort – I mean, a lot of effort – not to mention a substantial amount of money. So, I abandoned the idea of opening a club. Once you own a club, you kind of have to organize events almost every night, at least every other night, and on weekends. It’s a great responsibility. Being a club owner and an event promoter are entirely different roles. Once you become a club owner, you’re the owner of the club for life.
I’ve already taken on the roles of an event promoter, a music label, and a radio show host – that’s already plenty for me.
San Diego is known worldwide for its pleasant climate, and people here are enthusiastic about outdoor activities, including dancing. House music, which is more suitable for outdoor chill settings, is generally favored by the locals. What led you to establish a techno-focused collective label in San Diego instead of the more popular house genre?
M: 确实，在San Diego，House音乐挺火的。比如fngrs crssd（San Diego本地的的一个House & Techno promoter）的那些人，他们做得很棒，每年都有几场很大的音乐节（指CRSSD fest），他们背后是有很多钱以及运营手段去支持的。当然，有很多人都喜欢去这种户外的音乐节，但他们主要是奔着音乐节的氛围去参加的。他们可能不怎么认识Techno的那些艺人，但他们还是会去。不过CRSSD能够book Techno艺人我认为已经很棒了，因为从某种意义上来说，这样可以提升观众对Techno的认知，未来就可以让更多的人接受并喜欢这个风格。
Indeed, House music is quite popular in San Diego. For instance, people from fngrs crssd do a fantastic job. They organize several large music festivals every year, like CRSSD Fest, and they have the financial resources and marketing teams to support them. Many people enjoy attending these outdoor music festivals primarily for the festival vibe. They might not be very familiar with Techno artists, but they still go. However, I think it’s great that CRSSD books Techno artists because, in a way, it helps raise awareness of Techno among the audience, which could lead to more people embracing and enjoying the genre in the future.
However, for us, we didn’t want to do that; we’re not that type of organization. Some organizations focus solely on events, and that’s perfectly fine. But for us, because we were influenced by Drumcode, we wanted to have our own artists, music labels, and radio shows, not just be event promoters.
J：加州一直有一条很奇怪的法律，就是酒精宵禁（即凌晨2点之后禁止售卖酒精饮品，俱乐部最晚一般也只能开到凌晨两点）。像之前你提到的，这里没有什么像柏林Tresor和纽约Body & Soul这样标志性的俱乐部，你认为酒精宵禁是否是造成南加州无法拥有标志性俱乐部的原因之一呢？
California has an “alcohol curfew” which prohibits alcohol sales after 2 a.m. Do you believe the curfew is a major factor preventing Southern California from having iconic underground music clubs?
There certainly aren’t many iconic clubs here. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles may have a few, but compared to Europe, it’s not that many. I do think it could be related to California’s peculiar alcohol curfew. Other countries don’t have such regulations. I’m not sure why California has this rule, but to some extent, it has hindered the development of clubs and consequently the development of club music.
There have been discussions about why the electronic music market in the United States isn’t as big as it is in Europe. Personally, I believe it’s largely due to the vast geographical size and diverse landscapes of the United States. Most big cities in the US are located along the coastlines or near the borders, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. In contrast, much of the US interior is sparsely populated, consisting of vast plains or mountain ranges, making cultural dissemination exceptionally challenging and fragmented. But in Europe, countries are adjacent to each other, and big cities with concentrated populations are geographically very close. However, this isn’t the case in the United States. I think this is also a significant reason why the US lacks iconic clubs.
So, we can also say that in Southern California, underground events tend to be hosted by promoters rather than club owners, right?
Because of our roots starting in the 90’s rave days, Techno events in SoCal tend to be hosted in warehouses and outdoor spaces vs. nightclubs. With Techniche, we wanted to host our events in clubs which wasn’t the norm, but we had opportunities to host our events in proper nightclubs for logistical reasons.
The concepts and meanings of clubs and warehouse parties are different. People typically attend warehouse parties for the pure joy of dancing without any type of inhibitions. However, those going to clubs often do so for both dancing and socializing. For some, clubs even feel like a second home, largely because club venues tend to be safer and geographically more consistent than warehouse parties. This is also why I started Techniche and chose to host events in clubs and other small venues.
In China, due to the absence of laws like alcohol curfews, clubs can operate until very late hours, leading to a surge in the number of clubs in recent years. However, there are still relatively few clubs that eventually survive in China. Which scenario do you think is more favorable for the development of the rave scene: relying on promoters or relying on clubs?
It’s hard to say. I believe it depends on the cultural background.
For example, in California, as we mentioned earlier, there’s an alcohol curfew of over 80 years, where legal clubs can only sell alcohol until 2 AM at the latest, which is insufficient for the sunrise culture of ravers. This naturally led to an increase in underground outlaw parties, driven by promoters. Today, the underground scene in Los Angeles is huge, but most of them focus on events rather than music production. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this approach.
On the other hand, in Europe and places like China, where there’s no alcohol curfew, clubs can stay open all night, and people can dance and socialize until dawn. This provides people with a legal and established venue for both dancing and socializing.
The United States is the birthplace of House and Techno. In contrast, the electronic music scene in China started relatively late, but the audience appears to have a more “diverse” taste in parties where you can hear a variety of genres at the same party or even from the same DJ. In Southern California, on the other hand, the audience seems to prefer parties with clear music genres. What do you think has caused this phenomenon?
Indeed, many things are separated now. Honestly, I’m not quite sure why, haha.
但想起来在90年代Rave初期我刚开始出去放歌的时候，我什么都会放一点，不一定都是Techno。那个时候，很多活动都会设置不同的room：比如说有Techno room，或者有Drum & Bass room，甚至还会有Ambient room。不过现在几乎没有专门放Ambient的俱乐部和活动了。或许在EDC上还有，我不清楚哈哈。但确实你说得对，美国这边确实一直在按曲风划分舞台。
But thinking back to when I first started DJing in the early days of the ’90s rave scene, I used to play a bit of everything, not just Techno. Back then, many events would have different rooms, like a Techno room, a Drum & Bass room, or even an Ambient room. Nowadays, there are hardly any clubs or events specifically dedicated to Ambient music. Perhaps you might find some at EDC; I’m not sure. But you’re right; in the US, they have been categorizing stages by music genre for quite some time now.
Do you view China’s diverse taste as a transitional phase or a completely new state of differentiation?
In the early stages of the 1990s rave scene, everything was fresh and exciting. They discovered that aside from mainstream or hip-hop, there were many other interesting genres of music. It was like, “Wow, this is Techno. Wow, that’s Trance,” and then suddenly, “Wow, this is Dubstep.” Because at that time, everything was so new, and there were so many choices.
其实在那之前，我们真的没有太多类型的舞曲音乐，可能只有一些流行音乐广播上的东西。但现在互联网，你可以随时随地搜索任何东西，有很多不同的渠道来听音乐。有传统广播，还有Spotify，还有很多人通过SoundCloud等做自己的播客。我认为这在很大程度上与美国的情况有关，就像我之前说的，因为它非常分散，所以他们在所做的事情上非常专业。比如Drum & Bass 我也很喜欢，但我不会去外面放Drum & Bass，因为我知道有其他DJ在那方面做得比我更好，他们更专业，且我也不想打扰到他们。
Before that, we didn’t have too many types of dance music, probably just some stuff on mainstream music radios. But now, with the internet, you can search for anything anytime anywhere. There are many different channels for listening to music. There’s traditional radio, then there’s Spotify, and a lot of people have podcasts on platforms like SoundCloud. I think this is largely due to the situation in the United States, as I mentioned earlier, because it’s so spread out, people are very specialized in what they do. For example, I also like Drum & Bass, but I wouldn’t go out and play Drum & Bass because I know other DJs do it better than me. They are more professional, and I don’t want to step on their toes.
Many times, event promoters book DJs based on their music style. If DJs can’t categorize their music into a specific genre, it can be challenging for promoters to place them, and they may find it difficult to get booked.
So, I think the current situation in China might be similar to the United States during the 90s rave era. Electronic music is just beginning to develop, and for the audience, everything is still very new. Listening to just one type of music at the same event might not satisfy them at all, just like when I was younger.
Considering the differences in the origins of electronic music scenes in the United States and China, do you think this has a direct influence on the differences in emphasis on specific forms of music scenes in both countries? In the long term, do you think that underground electronic music parties in China will gradually become more genre-separated, similar to the United States?
In fact, electronic music has never received significant promotion in the United States, because the mainstream, pop, and hip-hop music markets are simply too massive. However, with the rise of music festivals, the situation has improved. Nowadays, especially with EDM, there’s certainly a lot of appeal, but they are indeed evolving towards a more mainstream direction.
Many DJs and producers, such as Skrillex, have made a significant impact in the mainstream, so they have higher exposure. However, Techno and House, have always remained underground in the United States. So, I believe this has a direct impact. Techno and House in the United States have been around for so long, and even though they remain underground, the producers and DJs involved have been constantly evolving and specializing in their preferred styles.
For China today, it might be similar to the early days of rave culture in the United States, where electronic music was relatively new to the audience. Everything seemed fresh, and any genre could stimulate their ears. However, as time goes on, the audience may become less easily impressed, and their tastes may become more discerning. To cater to these discerning audiences, the marketing and operational strategies of music events may change. For example, the dominant music genres at parties may become more specialized over time.
明天的中国电子音乐场景，究竟会像 Myxzlplix 说的那样从“什么都觉得好新鲜有趣”的懵懂走向“挑三拣四”的成熟；还是会在不同的时代背景下走出截然不同的风貌。作为国内发展的亲历者，我们正在一起见证！
The future of China’s electronic music scene, whether it will follow Myxzlplix’s idea of transitioning from a phase of “finding everything exciting and fresh” to a more selective and mature phase, or take on a completely different path in different social backgrounds? This is something we, as firsthand witnesses from the country, are experiencing together.